My Biggest Failure

Posted on May 5th, by Michael Rosenblum in New Media. 1 Comment

Are you kidding me?

Dave Cohn, who runs

also runs something called The Carnival of Journalism.  Every month he invites members to submit blogs on a specific subject. This month’s subject is ‘Something You Have Failed At – a True Story’.  There are lessons to be learned from failure – more lessons than from success. As such, I thought I would share this one:

In 1994 I was running a company I had founded called Video News International – VNI.

The concept behind the company was that I would provide video cameras (Hi8 was the cutting edge technology of the day) to journalists around the world, teach them to shoot and cut and create a kind of low cost/high quality CNN.  By 1994 I had equipped and trained about 100 journalists, mostly NPR radio stringers. It was a pretty good network.  The whole business would, in fact, be bought by The New York Times to become New York Times TV, but that is another story.

This is the story of how I did not pay enough attention to something that turned out to be very important.

The company was based in Philadelphia.  There was a young kid working for me (we were all young, but he was still in college), named Anthony Lappe.  When he was not working for VNI he was working nights for Comcast.  One day he came over to me and said I had to come and see what he and the other people were working on at night over at Comcast.  I would think it was ‘totally cool’.

So one evening we went over to the basement of the Comcast building in Philly. I mean the sub sub basement.

There, in the windowless and dank cellar were about 6 other 18 year olds, hunched over massive CRT screens.  (Those were those giant tube screens that everyone used before flat screens were invented).  They were all screwing around with something Anthony called ‘The Internet” – whatever that was.

This was 1994 and Comcast had set up an experiment in this Internet thing. They had wired 3500 homes in the Philadelphia market to get this Internet thing on their computers.  (First, you had to find 3500 homes that even had home computers).  Then they were sending out content to them and they could talk about it and stuff.  Pointless, really.

Anthony introduced me to the guy who was running the project.

They needed content for this Internet experiment thing.  It ate up a lot of content.  Anthony had told them that I had 100 journalists around the world creating content all the time – text, stills and video.  Would I like to provide them with some content for this Internet?  Anthony had already worked up something called a Web Page for VNI.  All the stuff my reporters sent in could be put on the webpages and sent to the 3500 homes.  They would even create a URL for me, whatever that was, with a name like or something like that.. or… or  Whatever I wanted.

I looked around.  3500 homes. On computers?

“How much are you going to pay me for the content?” I asked.

Sorry, they said, “we don’t pay for content”.

You mean you want it for free?  Why would I do that?  Forget it!

Was that stupid? Was that the biggest mistake I have ever made?

Lemme see.  In 1998 Mark Cuban founded Broadcast. com and in 1999 sold it to Yahoo for…. um… $5.9 billion.



Lessons learned.

First, listen to the 19 year old interns.

Second, new technologies change everything.



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Every day Michael Rosenblum blogs about the latest developments in the world of video and the media as well as future trends in technology and equipment.

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